Guess what? We’ve all moved! No longer do we live on dear old Planet Earth, where the living is easy and the resources plentiful. No, after decades of spewing greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, we have fundamentally changed our planet. In a book titled Eaarth—that’s Eaarth with two A’s–author Bill McKibben suggests that we no longer live on Planet Earth, one A. We now inhabit a new, less friendly planet he calls Eaarth, two A’s.
What birthed this new, tougher planet? According to McKibben, “We are running Genesis backward; (we’re) decreating.” (25) Hear now the story of de-creation.
On the first day, God created day and night. …and, in the last two centuries, we’ve worked hard to confuse the two. With electricity, we’ve extended day into night. With smog, we have be-nighted our days. With day and night, it’s getting hard to tell one from the other.
What difference might confusing day and night make make? It makes a big difference to birds and sea turtles. “Long artificial days, and artificially short nights induce early breeding in a wide range of birds…it can also affect migration schedules. Leaving early may mean arriving too soon for nesting conditions to be right. Some birds become confused by the lights and fly into buildings, or fly in circles until they drop from exhaustion.
“Endangered nesting sea turtles, which show a natural predisposition for dark beaches, find fewer and fewer of them to nest on. Both the adult sea turtles and the babies that hatch from the eggs become confused and turn toward the road instead of the ocean. (Seasons of the Spirit)
God created day and night. We are decreating them.
On the second day, God created sky. You’ve heard of carbon footprints, right? The carbon at issue is the level of carbon dioxide emitted into the atmosphere, or sky. A safe level of CO2 in the atmosphere is 350 ppm. That means that to keep the earth we were born into, we need to maintain 350 ppm of CO2. “In September 2009 the lead article in the journal Nature said that above 350 we “threaten ecological life-support systems… and severely challenge the viability of contemporary human societies.” (16) Right now, we’re at 390 ppm.
Also in 2009, at an environmental gathering of the world’s nations in Copenhagen—church bells rang out 350 times….for 350 ppm of carbon. It felt hopeful. The world’s leaders were listening! Or they were until they barred everyone not officially associated with the gathering from the proceedings.
At the end of the day, “If you took every government pledge made during the conference and added it all together, the world in 2100 would have more than 725 ppm carbon dioxide, or slightly double what scientists now believe is the maximum safe level of 350. Even if you took all the possible ‘conditional proposals, legislation under debate and unofficial government statements”— in other words, even if you erred on the side of insane optimism,” McKibben writes–“the world in 2100 would have about 600 ppm carbon dioxide. That is, we’d live, if not in hell, then in some place with a very similar temperature.” (20)
God created the sky. We are de-creating it.
On the third day, God created oceans. As we pour CO2 into the atmosphere, the ocean heats up. As the ocean heats up, the ice caps melt. As the ice caps melt, the sun’s rays no longer bounce off the white surface of the ice; now they are absorbed into the blue of the ocean, thus creating even warmer seas.
Warmer oceans mean more storms. “111 hurricanes formed in the Atlantic between 1995 and 2008, a rise of 75 percent over the previous 13 years. These storms are stronger and stranger…. just ask the residents of New Orleans.
In addition to rising temperatures, acid levels in the ocean also are rising—at a rate 10 times faster than expected. Higher acidity is contributing to an 80% death rate of baby oysters. Coral reefs are being decimated at an alarming rate. Scientist Nancy Knowlton notes that “coral reefs will cease to exist as physical structures by 2100, perhaps 2050.” (10) Phytoplantkton, the most fundamental piece of the oceanic food chain, is in precipitous decline. (25)
In addition to the mammoth chemical and temperature alterations of oceans, rising water levels are wreaking a havoc all their own. McKibben notes that “Some places with civilizations that date back a thousand years—the Maldives in the Indian Ocean, Kiribati in the Pacific,” to name two—“are actively preparing to lower their flags and evacuate their territory” because of rising water levels. (45)
God created oceans. We are de-creating them.
On the fourth day, God created vegetation and seasons. Stories of decreating vegetation and seasons abound; I could cite statistics all day. I could explain how climate change contributed to an increase of 40 million hungry people in 2008 due to failing crops (24). I could tell how ragweed is now 10% taller and creates 60% more pollen (35). I could explain how warmer winters have contributed to a significant increase in the tick population (34).
I could tell you how in “the last six years, as warming temperatures and drought have killed off the native vegetation that hold soil in place, windstorms have dumped twice as much dust across the American West. In April 2009, after the biggest of the storms blew through Silverton, CO, one witness said the landscape ‘looked like Mars…you could feel the dust, you could taste the dust.” (44)
Much of that dust and dirt is dropped “on the snowpack of the Rocky Mountains, significantly speeding up its melt. The snow-pack now melts ‘weeks earlier than normal’… which spells ‘disaster for thousands of farmers and ranchers in the region who depend on slowly melting snow to provide water’ flows over the dry summer months. ‘A lot of the water’s gone by the time the crops need it,’ one researcher explained.” (44-45)
Of the changing seasons, I could tell you about Ohio’s state tree: the buckeye. As climate changes, the tree’s habitat creeps northward. If the trend continues, the tree soon will vacate Ohio entirely and reside in “the territory of its college football archrival, Michigan.” (34)
The results of our confusing of the seasons was even a topic of conversation at the monastery last week. Commenting on the earlier blossoming of flowers and the lengthening of the hot season, one sister said: “Things are blooming a month earlier, now. Indian summer is coming a month later. It’ll come in October this year.”
God created vegetation and seasons. We are de-creating them.
On the fifth day, God created every living creature on land, in the sea, in the air. We’ve already heard how light pollution affects birds and sea turtles. We’ve heard how the increasing acidity of the ocean is decimating oysters, coral reefs, and phytoplankton… And who hasn’t seen pictures of the polar bears floating on smaller and smaller pieces of ice?
God created every living creature on land, in the sea, in the air. We are de-creating them.
Anyone depressed yet? Read McKibben’s book. You’ll get really depressed. Reading Eaarth (two A’s) has opened my eyes to this one fact: the earth has fundamentally changed, it’s changed to the point that we can’t reclaim the planet we used to inhabit. Greenhouse emissions have set a chain of chemical reactions in process—scientists call it “feedback”—that we cannot stop. Even if everyone on the planet reduced their carbon footprint to zero this afternoon, processes have been started that can’t be reversed. We can’t recreate the polar ice caps (not without another ice age). We can’t rebuild the rain forests. We can’t decrease the carbon dioxide content of our atmosphere to 350 with the flip of a switch. As Bill McKibben says: “Global warming is no longer a philosophical threat, no longer a future threat, no longer a threat at all. It is our reality. We’ve changed the planet” (xiii); we can’t go back.
What we can do, what we as people of faith must do is figure out how to live on this tougher planet in ways that honor God’s creation. I’ve thrown a lot of science at you today. And science is important—it helps to describe the earth we now inhabit; it explains how we arrived on this new planet; and—to a point—it’s helping us learn to live on it.
But the true solution to finding a way to live on our new, harsher planet, I think, is spiritual. God created the earth…then appointed human beings to be stewards of it. What happened? Where did we go wrong? How did we fail so miserably at our job of stewardship? I am convinced that something in our spirits led us astray. Something in our spirits taught us to see creation as something to be conquered rather than something to be cared for. Something in our spirits has made us blind to the beauty—and fragility—of creation.
And just as our spirits have led us astray in caring for creation, I am convinced it is our spirits that will teach us how to create a life of well-being on this new, harsher planet Eaarth, two A’s. God created the earth; we’ve worked hard to decreate it. It might be too late to reinhabit planet Earth, one A…but it’s never too late to reclaim our role as stewards of God’s creation.
So, how do we do that? Stay tuned the next three weeks as we work our way toward an answer to that crucial question.
In the name of our God, who creates us, redeems us, sustains us, and hopes for our wholeness. Amen.
Kimberleigh Buchanan © 2012